Kuhnix: The embedded OS QNX in the changing automotive sector


Even in the context of the “automotive industry”, the statement “He uses QNX” can mean a lot. It used to be clear that the automotive sector could only be about the embedded operating system, which is now called “QNX Neutrino”. On the outside, however, a whole garden of software solutions for the automotive industry grew, almost all of which were named with a “QNX”. There are hypervisors, middleware and other software platforms, hardware abstraction layer tools (HAL), acoustic management and, of course, real-time operating system variants in various security classifications. Although our series of articles is about operating systems (OS) for infotainment, this text goes beyond this topic in places to explain how another real-time * nix became the market leader for automotive software platforms.

The infotainment area that we highlight is mainly about the product package “QNX CAR Platform for Infotainment”. It is based on the QNX Neutrino operating system and contains everything an infotainment system needs: multimedia suite, web browser (based on Blink), acoustic management, speech processing, Bluetooth support, a framework for user interfaces (based on Qt) and smartphone integration: Android Auto, Apple Car Play, Baidu CarLife.

Ford’s infotainment solution “Sync 3” (here in the Ford Ranger) is a typical example of a center console built on QNX.

(Image: Clemens Gleich)

Neutrino is real-time capable and POSIX compatible. Anyone who has already worked under other POSIX-compatible Unix offshoots will find their way around immediately. The microkernel system runs on all hardware platforms commonly used in the automotive sector, is considered stable and needs little computing time for overhead. If you need it, you can get the source code (for a surcharge). QNX is also used in many other industrial applications that use embedded OS, such as wind turbines and Cisco routers. The estimated 50 to 55 percent market share of QNX in the automotive sector is due on the one hand to reassuring awareness and on the other hand to the range of professional features. The owner BlackBerry takes part of the income as license fees per vehicle. This creates a considerable incentive to supply as many vehicles as possible with your own software.

With increasing vehicle automation and the expanded telematics functions for relaxed electric car use, the market has been growing recently. At the same time, the conditions are changing enormously. With Automotive Grade Linux, but above all Android Automotive OS, strong competitors are emerging in the infotainment market.

Instead of many small control units, engineers are consolidating their platforms: fewer computers in the car, which are more powerful. In order to accommodate different security requirements on the same hardware, there is no getting around virtualization: Different domains (e.g. speedometer and center console) then run in their own virtual machine (VM), with their own assigned hardware resources and response time requirements .

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